Occupy Oakland Protesters Clash With Police

Ari Shapiro speaks with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila about Tuesday's dramatic clashes between police in Oakland, California, and protesters supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Police fired tear gas several times into a crowd of about a thousand protesters in downtown Oakland last night. The protesters were supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been in Oakland since early October. They clashed with police for much of the evening in a dramatic scene that unfolded over several hours. Matthai Kuruvila is a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and he was at the protest last night.

Matthai, walk us through what happened Tuesday morning and then into the evening.

MATTHAI KURUVILA: Well, Tuesday morning, Oakland police did a crackdown and sweep of an encampment in front of Oakland City Hall that had been taken over by members of the Occupy movement. This encampment was sort of a mini-city, where people had tents, they had a kid's play area for people who brought kids there. They had a medic station and first aid. They had kitchen service. They had a library. They would teach classes on capitalism every day.

And over time this community that was placed right in front of Oakland City Hall became more and more popular. But at the same time there were increasing problems from the city's perspective, ranging from sanitation and food handling and human waste in different areas to safety and security issues. Protestors weren't allowing police into the area, and they weren't allowing paramedics either.

So the escalating number of incidents in the area led police and the city to want to crack down on this area. So in the morning you had Oakland police, along with 16 other law enforcement agencies from around the Bay Area, came in with tear gas and apparently rubber bullets. Even though police did not confirm it, several protesters showed me their wounds and injuries that they said came from rubber bullets. And people in the encampment were also throwing things back at police. There were some that were throwing dishes and pots and pans. And they shut down the camp, arresting 97 people.

In the evening, many of the people who had been part of the camp, along with hundreds and hundreds of others who simply supported them, returned. In the evening you had about 1,000 people protesting in downtown Oakland to take back the camp. That protest was largely driven by how upset people were that this camp in the morning was broken up.

SHAPIRO: You say 16 law enforcement agencies, tear gas, firing bean bags on the protestors. Sounds like a pretty substantial use of force to break up this presence.

KURUVILA: It's not entirely clear why you needed 16. At the same time, I think police didn't know what they were coming into, because they hadn't been given access into the camp and they didn't know what they should expect. You had a mini city that had set up. And among the things that police said were that people were prepared to respond to any police action with violence. So they were very concerned about how that would play out.

SHAPIRO: Well, you've covered other protests in the Bay Area. And you were in the middle of this one, I guess even getting tear gassed yourself. How did this compare?

KURUVILA: Well, we had the series of protests in 2009 after a young African-American man was shot by a transit officer in Oakland. And those protests had a lot more damage to public property. The cars were smashed. Business storefronts were smashed.

This protest last night was much tamer compared to those, in part because protestors were seeking to avoid direct confrontation with police. When police would ask them to disperse, they would disperse and simply move to another area and then keep coming back. They were being provocative but weren't necessarily confronting police or seeking to destroy property in the same way that protestors in the past have done.

SHAPIRO: Matthai Kuruvila is a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle. Thanks a lot.

KURUVILA: Thanks so much for having me, Ari.

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